by Dave Franklin | Special to MCLA.us
So many significant moments in my life and career have taken place on MCLA lacrosse fields and/or with MCLA people.
In 2007, my team at Emory won our first conference championship and made it all the way to the national quarterfinals. In 2011, I took my behind-the-camera career with CBS to go in front of the camera with Fox to be a sideline reporter for the national championships in Denver.
In 2012, I made Israel's national team and roomed with Jason Senter, who at the time was a junior at Florida State. From there, I made stops in Greenville and Orange County to announce games and write stories. I couldn't be happier to be back in the action and to be traveling to Utah this May to get back into the announcers both.
It being 2019, here are the top nine moments from my MCLA past and top 10 things that I am looking out for and looking forward to this season.
1. 2011 National Championships in Denver
I dreamed of being a sports announcer my whole life. Being a sideline reporter for the 2011 Tournament was my big break, but I don't remember much about my call. I remember the games.
I remember Michigan being avenged by Arizona State in the semifinals - ending the Wolverine's national championship streak as they made the jump to NCAA Division I. I remember the other heated semifinal between BYU and Colorado State where the atmosphere was so intense, I thought the coaches were going to throw down.
Lastly, I remember interviewing my Emory teammate, Ryan Covert, who was an assistant coach for Davenport's Division II title team alongside Alex Buque, a star goalie who made it to the NLL ranks.
Looking back, I could care less about people seeing me on TV. I am grateful for the things I got to witness and the experiences I got to share with important people in the MCLA community.
2. The 2011 Michigan - Arizona State semifinal game
I first met John Paul in the summer of 2003 when I went to his camp in Ann Arbor. I didn't know much about the MCLA, but I thought it was pretty cool considering the ACC schools, Syracuse and Ohio State were the only big players in the NCAA.
If you told me I'd be on the field, in front of the camera for Michigan's last MCLA game, I would have been more likely to believe that I would call the Super Bowl one day.
Michigan wanted to win that championship and go off into the NCAA sunset as the best MCLA program ever. Arizona State wanted revenge after losing to Michigan in the 2010 title game.
Similarly, it would be easy to assume Utah wanted something similar for themselves last year - hosting the tournament and hopefully winning as they make the NCAA transition.
Well, Michigan didn't win in 2011 and Utah didn't win in 2018 and that's what's great about sports: there are no guaranteed fairy tale endings, unless you are BYU eight years ago or ironically enough, Michigan State last year.
3. Pitt makes the 2012 Tournament
When Michigan left, it made room for a new contender in the CCLA and in 2012, that was the University of Pittsburgh. I built a strong relationship with coaches Sean Buzzard and Alex Perry that year and following Tyler Novonty's 100-point season was magical.
Pitt lost in the first round, 13-9 to UCSB on a rainy, Greenville night, but the players held their heads high and brought so much positive energy to the tournament.
Alex Perry no longer coaches, but he's one of my best friends to date. Pitt had a scrappy midfielder that year named Mike Mannion. Mike has been my teammate in New York City ever since for the Dead Rabbits Lacrosse Club.
4. Duluth Takes Top Seeded Poly to OT in 2012 first round
In 2011, I was just a sideline reporter. In 2012, I got off a plane in South Carolina, and was rushed to the fields and thrown right into the booth for the first game of the Division I tournament.
Joey Slattery of Duluth made 18 saves in one of the best live goal keeping performances I've ever seen. Matt Graupmann scored the game winner and then jumped into the arms of a childhood friend on the sidelines who played for UCSB.
5. Liberty makes the 2013 Division II semifinals
When I played at Emory, Liberty was supposed to be one of our rivals in SELC-II. One day, all I heard is Liberty got into a bad travel accident and they wouldn't bring the program back.
Well, they did bring the program back. They hired an alum as the head coach, built incredible facilities for the team, attracted some top transfer students and unapologetically made a run for the 2013 National Championship before making the jump to Division I.
Liberty might have lost to the St. Thomas juggernaut 10-9, but they showed the lacrosse world they were for real in a big way that spring. In 2013, Liberty made their first MCLA tournament appearance at the DII level. In 2018, they made their first MCLA tournament at the DI level.
6. The 2014 NC State at Liberty Midnight Blackout Game
Apologies for going back-to-back with Liberty here, but Kyle McQuillan does an excellent job with that program both on the field and off.
In 2014, I was invited to Lynchburg to announce their annual blackout game against North Carolina State. Liberty is a dry campus so the athletic department will entertain students by giving each sports team a "blackout" Friday home game that starts at midnight.
It was Liberty's first D-I season, but it didn't seem like it. The 9-7 score that Liberty won by makes the game seem closer than it was. Ironically enough, North Carolina State's best player was Bill Nifong, a cousin of Mike Nifong: the district attorney who was disbarred after the Duke lacrosse case of 2006.
7. The 2018 Boston College at Grand Canyon game
So many cool themes to touch on here. Being a New York City kid, I always get a thrill out of doing anything with Boston College considering my deep admiration for Welles Crowther.
Manny Rapkin's Lopes were the defending national champs, and BC's head coach was a young Louie DeDonaits, an All-American LSM on GCU's 2015 national championship team. DeDonatis did not care if he was back at his alma mater, going up against his old team, coaching against his old colors versus his old coach.
He wanted to win.
However, the Lopes took the W 10-1 with a roster filled with some of Louie's old teammates. The famous Crowther #19 was won by BC's captain, John Carroll, a backup goalie who went into the ROTC.
Jack Lamey had an incredible game at LSM for GCU scoring a "Gordie Howe Hat-trick." When I mentioned the term to Lamey, he had no clue what I was talking about. Rapkin broke out laughing and told Jack, "You scored a goal, you got an assist and you took a slashing penalty; that's a Gordie Howe Hat-trick."
8. Colorado wins first title in 2014 over ASU
Remember, no fairy tale endings. So as nice as it would have been to see Chris Malone win one for the Sun Devils in his final year as their coach, it was not in the cards.
However, that title game was going to claim a first time national champion one way or the other and 2014 was the year of the Buffalo. Vermont transfer Jack Cranston had 14 points in the tournament and the California kid won the championship in front of his friends and family in Orange County.
CU won despite a devastating injury to their faceoff LSM Clark Salamie. Other Colorado notables on that championship roster were Zach Doss, brother of Notre Dame's star goalie Shane Doss, and goalie Mitch Fenton who is now an assistant coach for Colorado's women's team in the NCAA.
9. The 2014 Coast Guard team
Coast Guard always had a decent MCLA lacrosse program, but they made it clear every season that they would always forgo an invite to nationals to prioritize their summer military training. Well, 2014 was a different season and a different reason.
The alumni and athletic department worked with the administration to make ensure the boys would go to California to compete if they won the Pioneer League. More importantly, it was a statement year for the Coast Guard that had plans to joining the NCAA DIII ranks in 2015.
The Bears lost 12-9 to Dayton in the first round, but the team played great, showed incredible character and sent their coach, Gary Weller, out as a legend.
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10. Is the SELC Still a four-bid league?
Enough of the past and into the future...but speaking of the past, the SELC was a one-bid league for the longest time, especially when I was playing. For a long time, UGA was the "big dog" in the conference, then there was the recent battle of the Tech schools in Virginia and Georgia that made things a little more interesting.
Fans always assumed Liberty would eventually break through but how ‘bout them Gamecocks? In 2018, the Jackets, the Hokies, the Flames and the Cocks made it to Salt Lake. I'm pumped to see what happens this year.
11. Will Michigan State be dethroned in the Continental Conference?
If I wanted to lament more on the past, I could talk about watching Cam Holding as a player at Grand Valley State in 2011 and then seeing him coach MSU to the programs' first national title last year.
However, the combined forces of the former CCLA and the Pioneer League has no lack of talent. Davenport, Buffalo, Pitt, UConn, Northeastern and New Hampshire can all put up a fight. Cam Holding stepped away from the sidelines and expectations are high for new head coach D.J. Lubs.
12. Hooisers vs. Gophers: a Big Ten battle in the UMLC
Conference lines have shifted again and the Minnesota Gophers are right in the middle of it. If Rich Limpert's team wants to make a name for itself in 2019, they won't have to face Michigan State in league play, but Pete Nelson's Hoosiers will be waiting for them in the UMLC postseason.
Nelson, a Duluth alum is a Minnesota kid with a good relationship with Limpert. Indiana has danced before, and Minnesota is due for a breakout year in a big way. Minnesota's schedule is absurdly difficult. The Gophers still play Michigan State in non-conference play in addition to Davenport, Sonoma State, Chapman, Liberty and Virginia Tech.
13. Bison go for two in a row
For the longest time, NDSU really took a back seat to other midwestern programs in their own conference as well as the former CCLA squads. The script got flipped last year overcoming a conference championship loss to St. Thomas with an overtime national title victory over the Tommies.
Having fully merged with the CCLA, every team in the UMLC is a tournament team. St. Thomas, St. John's, Grand Valley State, Dayton and Duluth are the definition of quality over quantity. I can talk for days about how Zach Bosh is one of the most resilient coaches I've ever met, but I can say that about any coach in this conference who needed to overcome adversity to win.
If you think Dayton, GVSU or St. Thomas ever won a ring that wasn't stained in blood, sweat and tears, think again.
14. Soaring Eagles from Concordia
Several teams have made successful transitions between divisions, most notably Grand Canyon, Liberty and Duluth. Concordia has been the real deal from the start, establishing themselves as a solid D-II tournament team, becoming 2017 national champs and then making the D-I national tournament out a competitive SLC conference the very next year.
The Eagles’ first round game in 2018 was a true match of grinders with similar backgrounds. Liberty never won a D-II national title and worked hard for so long to become a formidable D-I program that a loss to fast rising Concordia could have added insult to injury.
The Flames won, 11-7, but it's only onward and upward for the Eagles who just need to compete in the league’s top three against among Grand Canyon, Chapman and Arizona State to find their way back to Utah.
15. Clemson's super sophomore: Garret Brennan
A freshman scoring 106 Points in a conference that produces four national tournament bids? Unheard of! In 2018, the young gun had double-digit point performances against Elon and Florida and didn't have a single game without at least both a goal and an assist.
I can't wait to see what this stud has in store for his sophomore season.
16. Young stud of D-II: Alexander Cunningham of Cal State San Marcos
If you thought 106 points was absurd, how about another freshman putting up 122?
Cunningham had at least a goal, an assist and three points a game. For the two games he only scored once, he tallied five assists in each contest. Cunningham took the Cougars to the 2018 tournament quarterfinals and is due for an epic return to Salt Lake City.
17. The Resurgence of Simon Fraser
SFU has not made the national tournament since 2014 and I'm shocked. The boys from up north have always had a strong hold on their conference regardless of how up and down Oregon and Oregon State were.
The Clan have the Oregon Ducks in game two of the 2019 slate and face BYU at the halfway mark of their schedule. By the end of the BYU game we should know exactly what Brent Hoskins' boys are made of.
18. Does Utah's Exit make room for CSU to come Back In?
You’d have to consider 2015 and 2018 as down years for Colorado State because despite how competitive RMLC Division I is, these five-time national champs always make the national tournament.
Ryan MacDonald is back at the helm for his second year and will play three of his last four games of the season against Chapman, BYU and Colorado. The Rams’ last four games on the 2018 season were BYU, Colorado and then Utah...twice! Senior goalie Frank Culhane should be the backbone of the team.
19. Is Oklahoma breaking through the LSA Sooner than expected?
Oklahoma was one win away from making their first national tournament last year but lost to Texas A&M, 17-11, which was a huge welcome back party for Tony Scazzero's Aggies.
However, the alumni in Norman are trying to do big things with the program and led by Mario Enea, some feel OU has the most complete overall coaching staff in the country. Oklahoma will have to find a way to replace over 160 points from the most recent graduating class but Bray O'Connor, Kyle Fronckiewicz, Nick Ruachle and Tyler Billing should be up for the task.
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Dave Franklin started covering the MCLA in 2011 with the national championship television broadcasts on Fox Sports. He would go on to become the league’s InsideLacrosse beat writer and podcast host through 2014 and continued to serve in the announcing booth at MCLA tournaments in Denver, Greenville and Orange County. Before playing midfield for Israel in the 2012 European Championships, Franklin helped Emory University to a 2007 SELC Division II Championship and a run to the national quarterfinals in Dallas.